Glutathione is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is an important part of the body's antioxidant defense system. Glutathione is composed of three different amino acids: cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Vitamins B6 and riboflavin are critical for maintaining adequate levels of glutathione within the body.
Research suggests that a variety of minerals, including copper and selenium, have a strong influence on cellular levels of glutathione. In addition, selenium is an essential part of many different forms of glutathione that exist in the body.
Because of its antioxidant properties, glutathione neutralizes damaging free radicals and peroxide molecules, and recharges oxidized vitamin C so that the body may reuse it. Glutathione is required for a variety of metabolic processes. In addition, glutathione bolsters the structure of body proteins and assists in the transport of amino acids across cell membranes.
Interestingly, the photochemical limonene may boost the body's synthesis of a glutathione-containing enzyme that has antioxidant properties and helps to detoxify chemicals. Limonene is found in citrus fruit peels, cherries, green foods (celery, fennel), soy products, and wheat.
Several foods contain naturally occurring glutathione, including avocado, watermelon, asparagus, grapefruit, potato, acorn squash, strawberries, orange, tomato, cantaloupe, broccoli, okra, peach, zucchini, and spinach.
Glutathione has several health benefits. Optimal amounts of glutathione are necessary for supporting the immune system, and, in particular, glutathione is required for replication of the lymphocyte immune cells.
Glutathione also helps the liver to detoxify chemicals, such as acetaminophen (active ingredient in pain relief medication), copper, and cadmium.
Scientists speculate that increasing consumption of antioxidants, such as glutathione, early in life may promote longevity and reduce chronic disease.
Research is currently exploring the potential benefits of glutathione for several conditions including cancer, heart disease, memory loss, osteoarthritis, Parkinson's disease, cornea disorders, kidney dysfunction, eczema, liver disorders, poisoning by heavy metals, and immunodepression that occurs in diseases such as AIDS.